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Winners Announced of 2013 Observer/Cape/Comica Graphic Short Story Prize!

Posted: October 27, 2013

The 2013 winner is Emily Haworth-Booth for “Colonic” with Michael Parkin as runner-up with “Lines”. Congratulations to them both. Last night, Saturday October 26th, they both attended Comica at Central Saint Martins and were presented with their certificates and cheques by Joe Sacco. Rachel Cooke, a judge for this competition, profiles Emily and Michael in this Observer feature:


‘At 33, Emily Haworth-Booth, the winner of this year’s Observer/Cape/Comica graphic short story prize, has had a more tortuous journey to the finish line than most. At school, she always had problems with art, the teacher’s exercises – “Now draw this pile of crumpled fabric!” – regularly reducing her to tears. She didn’t study the subject at GCSE or A-level, and her degree at Cambridge was in English literature, after which she worked, among other things, as a receptionist in a cosmetic surgery hospital, tried her hand as a standup comedian, and collaborated with her sister on a line of underwear printed with funny slogans.

‘But, still: she found that she couldn’t quite leave art behind. Before Cambridge, there had been a year’s foundation course at Chelsea College of Art (she put together a portfolio while attending Saturday adult education classes); as a student, she found herself making little illustrated books, which she passed on to her friends; and once she had finished her degree, she enrolled for drawing lessons at the Prince’s School in Shoreditch, east London. In 2008, she was the runner-up in our competition – with a story called “What Do Other Married People Talk About” – and it was after that, she says, “I really knuckled down”. More classes at the Prince’s School followed, and in 2010 its artistic director, Catherine Goodman, asked her to develop and teach a new course, Drawing the Graphic Novel.

’ “I was pretty unqualified on paper, but she has an amazing instinct about what will work, and she took a chance on me. I love teaching, and I’ve learned so much from my students.” These days, Haworth-Booth spends three days a week at the school (she is now its communications editor), and four mornings a week working on her own comics; she tries to draft 12 panels each session. Among the comic artists she regards as inspirational are Chris Ware, Seth, Marjane Satrapi, Posy Simmonds, and Daniel Clowes: “I must have read Ghost World hundreds of times.”

‘Haworth-Booth’s winning story, “Colonic”, does what it says on the tin, its protagonist spending most of her time on her back with a large tube stuck up her backside; this year’s judges – the panel, which selected the winner from among some 180 entries, included novelist Joe Dunthorne and Stephen Collins, author of The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil – liked it mainly because it made us laugh out loud. Where did she get the idea? The therapist’s voice seems so real; surely “Colonic” must have been based on a real encounter. “It was! During 2011 and 2012, I suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome, or ME. My GP wasn’t any help, so I underwent all sorts of alternative healing practices, from the completely gross – colonic irrigation – to the sublime – silent retreats. As part of my recovery process, trying to understand what was happening and why, and to channel my frustration into something constructive – I started keeping a graphic diary of these encounters. The experience wasn’t quite as awful as I’ve made out, and I’ve edited, exaggerated and added to it, but I hope I’ve got to the emotional truth of the experience: how powerless you can feel during medical procedures and how surreal it is to be in such intimate contact with a complete stranger.” Haworth-Booth is now working on turning the rest of her diaries into a book, and her hope is that winning the prize will help her to find a publisher. “It’s really exciting that the small personal moment I describe has resonated with the judges, and I feel so honoured to be in the company of such talented previous winners as Stephen Collins and Isabel Greenberg.”

‘This year’s runner-up is Michael Parkin, whose story “Lines” – it begins simply, with a man on a boat, fishing – we liked for its beautiful use of colour, for its visual harmony, and for the clever twist at its end. Parkin is a third-year illustration student at Kingston University. “I was a little nervous about entering the competition,” he says. “I’ve seen the quality of some past winners. But this year, all my tutors and a few friends recommended I try.” Where did his story come from? “I came up with it when I was lying in bed, trying to go to sleep. The idea behind it is someone escaping from everyday life to get away from all the noise and distraction; on the water, they catch various versions of themselves, each representing a different characteristic or chapter of their life. Over time, they find out more and more, until the weight of what they have pulled up slowly drags them under.

‘What is Parkin’s plan for the future? “After university, I want to hit the ground running. I want to turn illustration into my career. Hearing I was runner-up was the best news. I was, and still am, over the moon.” ‘

You can also see this year’s five finalists’ stories on display in Foyles Cafe until November 16th.

Read all the latest Comica news here.

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